The primary way of demonstrating Christian conversion in the first-century was through behavior. Jewish people were very religious people who worshipped the correct God. They had a very unique and distinctive way of acting based on their understanding of God's commandments and values. However, even though they were extremely religious and worshipped the correct God, they were in grave need of repentance. Consider Matthew 3:1-9 and Mark 1:14, 15. John's message to the Jewish people was a message of repentance. Jesus' message to the Jewish people contained a heavy emphasis on repentance (consider Luke 15).
People who belong to Jesus Christ behave differently. First, there is conversion to Jesus Christ. Second, there is behavior in Jesus Christ. The immediate question for each who enters Jesus Christ is: "How should I behave?" People who come to God through Christ behave differently from people who do not belong to God. Those differences cause all of us many challenges.
Joseph, recognized as the head of Jesus' earthly family, faced that issue before Jesus was born. He was engaged to Mary. Engagements among the Jews were serious and binding. They could be broken only by a divorce (which was a simple personal process, not a court process). Though a divorce was required to break engagements, a couple was not regarded a family with intimate contact until they "came together." Marriage commonly involved a banquet or feast, the bridegroom taking the bride to his home, and sexual activity.
Joseph became aware that his bride-to-be was pregnant, and the child was not his. Because they had not yet married, he had numerous options (see Deuteronomy 22:23, 24; Leviticus 20:10; and Deuteronomy 24:1-5). He was a righteous (just) man, and he had no desire to disgrace Mary. His decision: he would "put her away" (divorce her) secretly--spare her any public embarrassment.
Evidently, after Joseph decided to divorce Mary, he had a dream in which the Lord's angel (not named here) spoke to him. The angel told him not to be afraid to marry her. She had not been sexually unfaithful to him--she was a pregnant virgin because the Holy Spirit made her pregnancy occur. She would have a son who was to be named Jesus. This son would save his people from danger--the danger produced by sin. His birth would fulfill Isaiah 7:14. His presence among them would be the presence of God among them.
Joseph trusted the message of the angel. He married Mary, and in that action he made Mary and her child legally his. However, he did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus' birth. Matthew 13:55, 56 and Mark 6:3 leave no doubt that he was intimate with Mary after Jesus' birth.
Joseph's challenges in placing his trust in God were distinctive from Mary's challenges. There is no desire in the following to be inappropriate, but every desire to be practical. (1) In marrying Mary and accepting her child, he opened himself to ridicule or misunderstanding. He was either: (a) "Accepting responsibility for someone else's child and a questionable woman"--to which many would say, "Stupid!" Or, (b) he was acknowledging the child was his, and he acted sexually inappropriately in a society that had high sexual values. His reputation as a "righteous" man was very much at stake. If this was the case, his detractors would say, "Stupid!"
(2) Their marriage would not get off to a "normal" start. There is no profession here of what they considered "normal" in a new marriage. Please read Deuteronomy 20:7; 24:5; and Proverbs 5:18. For over a thousand years, Jewish society understood something we still understand today. Early marriage is an important time of bonding for two people who have been individuals or a part of another family unit. For centuries many societies have understood that this bonding in early marriage plays a significant role in the ability of a family to endure stresses in the years ahead.
By accepting responsibility for Mary and her unborn child, Joseph was forfeiting this important time of bonding with his new wife. Things are not "normal" when a person marries a wife who is already pregnant! There is no time of adjustment for the two of them to learn how to function as a unit who depend on each other. Also, can you imagine a couple marrying and having no sexual contact with each other for months after the marriage? These things are noted only to make you realize that things were not "normal" for either Joseph or Mary. Both made significant sacrifices to function as the earthly parents of Jesus!
Scripture does not say much about Joseph. Yet, he was an incredible man. His willingness to serve God's purpose at personal expense is seen (a) in his willingness to marry Mary, (b) in rearing an unusual child, and (c) in doing extraordinary things to make Jesus' life secure--like fleeing to and living in Egypt for a period of time.
Joseph challenges us: How much personal inconvenience are we willing to endure to pursue God's purposes when we do not understand God's purposes? Are we willing to endure the "abnormal" on a continuing basis to yield to God's will?
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide
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